The Grand Illumination: Go for the smells

December 4, 2016

I'll be honest: I've been to Colonial Williamsburg's Grand Illumination once, and it was far too long ago. Peyton Randolph's house was painted white back then, if that gives you a clue.


But the memories I treasure are all wrapped up in my olfactory nerves, the place where Colonial Williamsburg lives in my memory. (I hope I was able to bring this sensation to life in Tender: Book One in the Trelawneys of Williamsburg series, a book about a woman battling childhood amnesia caused by an unspeakable tragedy).


If you're anywhere near Williamsburg, get in your car and go. (Truth is, if you're anywhere near Williamsburg, you're probably already there! You're smart enough to know where to be this weekend.)


When I remember the weekend I spent there in the winter of 1993, it is bittersweet because I went without my then nine-year-old son, Joshua. It was only the second time I'd traveled without him since he'd been born. (None too ironically, the first time was to Jefferson, Texas, where I was inspired to write Love's Timeless Hope.) Being without him is always painful for me (something I'll no doubt write more about later), hence the bitter piece of it.


What made the trip sweet were the smells. Every time I go to Williamsburg, I go for the smells. Those are the most stubborn memories. At the Fourth of July you smell the mysterious scents of a fertile tidewater and the canal along with the boxwoods of the Palace gardens, the flowering gardens, the tang of the fireworks, and even the dust of a humid summer day stirred as you trod Duke of Gloucester Street.


Williamsburg in her full Christmas finery is beyond my powers of description. It's the fire I smell in my memory most. The cressets brimming with fatwood, the fireplace of each tavern welcoming visitors into the warmth from the cold, clear night. But there are many aromas in Williamsburg, and they blend together and bind their unique scent into your heart.


Take your family and make it only a sweet memory. When your children are old, they'll excitedly remember the subtle smells of the pine trees, the cressets, the holly wreaths, the garlands, the ginger cakes baking in the Raleigh Tavern Bakery, the steaming cocoa, the warm hearths. They'll remember the sights and the sounds and tastes as well - the fireworks at the Governor's Palace, the carolers (which I'm told are not "authentic" . . . ), the colorful gowns of the lords and ladies and common folk as they dress in their finery for the season, and the heady dishes such as wild game pie.


They'll remember this all. But what will trigger their fondest memories on a random afternoon months later as they take a walk through their neighborhood and catch an unmistakable hint of boxwood - even if you live in Dayton or Denver or, say, even Dallas - will be the smells.  





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